Today, typical rocket launches are expensive—not to mention wasteful. A single launch can cost more than $70 million, and most rockets are discarded after just one use. But SpaceX is working to change this. The California-based company founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk has become a leader in the growing private space industry.
For decades, government agencies like NASA were the main players in spaceflight. But SpaceX now regularly launches satellites into orbit and sends supplies and science equipment to the International Space Station. SpaceX has also advanced rocket design by making rockets that are reusable, which saves money and could allow astronauts to make return trips from other planets.
As one of SpaceX’s first employees, Gwynne Shotwell helped the company take flight. The engineer is now SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer. She oversees more than 6,000 people, most of whom focus on designing, building, and launching rockets and spacecraft. Science World spoke with Shotwell about her job and SpaceX’s ultimate goal of building a colony on Mars.